Today we are reviewing General’s Semi-Hex, the flagship pencil from one of the last American pencil companies, based in Jersey City, New Jersey. For some reason, we’ve never actually reviewed anything from General’s. We’ll, hopefully, follow up with the Cedar Pointe in the near future. To cut to the chase, there’s not much about the Semi-Hex that I don’t like, and its American heritage is a nice bonus. I’ve even been putting it through the paces for NaNoWriMo, and it’s a champ of a pencil.
Material: Premium Incense Cedar.
Shape: Hexagonal, with slightly rounded corners.
Finish: Yellow gloss with green foil details.
Ferrule: Aluminium — gold with black painted band.
Eraser: Pink rubber (?).
Core: Ceramic/graphite composite. Available in B, HB, F, H and 2H. (We tested the HB.)
Markings: Bonded — USA SINCE 1889 — GENERAL’S SEMI-HEX — 498-2/HB — SOFT.
Availability: From General’s and Pencils.Com — and select online retailers. (I’ve never seen them in person myself.)
The first thing you notice when you order (or buy in person) a dozen Semi-Hex pencils is the green cardboard box with retro graphics. While some companies do still use cardboard boxes from time to time (I have some by Dixon, Mirado, even recent ones), what you usually find is a blister pack. That’s not necessarily bad, especially if you like to see the pencils to pick the batch you like best. But, still, the old-timey American box makes me feel like these are pencils with work to do! And, with NaNoWriMo under way, they are!
The pencil’s appearance reminds me of the USA made Dixon Ticonderoga (pictured above with a Semi-Hex), being yellow with green foil lettering. Even some of the old grade markings look the same. I should probably look up to see which came first, but perhaps some Comrade who is generous with her or his time might do so?
The finish is solid, evenly applied and…modestly glossy. I like that these are sold unsharpened, and they don’t have that annoying paint overhang that Mirados always seem to have, and even a lot of recent Dixons. The wood is incredibly nice and very fragrant. If I’m not mistaken, all of General’s pencils are cedar, even their budget lines. This is the flagship pencil in the “school pencil” range, or, more accurately, the “writing” pencil range (although I suppose some people might write with the Kimberly; I do sometimes). If you enjoy the Cedar Pointe (and I sure do), this pencil is even, well, nicer. I would go so far as to say that this is the nicest yellow, eraser-capped pencil I have ever used.
However, if there’s one thing I don’t like about this pencil, it’s that it’s kind of boring to look at. The ferrules are well-attached, and the lettering is top-notch. But I wince at yellow pencils sometimes, even ones I enjoy like the Dixon and classic Mirado. If General’s Pencil Company decided to get funky and make this in a black finish like the Dixon Black (especially the USA made one with the matte finish) well, heck, I’d be in love. The stripe on the ferrule is badly done on most of the pencils in my dozen, but it’s not a huge deal. The eraser, a pink rubber (?) ender is really very effective. It’s a darker color than Dixons or Pink Pearls and feels somewhere between the two, and it erases as well as either of them.
But! This pencil has one thing that redeems its somewhat boring appearance: the lead! This is one smooth-writing, dark pencil. For this level of darkness and smoothness, the point retention is actually pretty good (between an HB Dixon and HB Palomino, but closer to the Dixon). I have yet to break one in any sharpener or on any page, or even in my pocket or bag. I did chop an eraser in half slamming my pencil box closed, but I glued it back together with clear tacky glue — why not? Or course, darkness here comes with increased ghosting, but it’s nothing terrible. Smearability, at this darkness, is actually pretty impressive, as I’ve found with other of General’s products.
Now. The name. As the name states, this is a rounded hexagonal pencil (think half-rounds, for my fellow musicians). Sounds good. Is it? Yes. Are most other hexagonal pencils rounded? Pretty much. The shape is not noticeably rounder than a Dixon, Cedar Point, Palomino, etc. But it is comfortable. Maybe this was a bigger deal when this pencil was first introduced? I do have some vintage pencils with edges so sharp that my poor middle finger hurts looking at them. It is a big deal if you write a lot. Maybe I’m holding my pencil wrongly (wait, I definitely do), but sharp-edge pencils like the Faber-Castell 9000 just hurt after a few pages, even at softer grades. And this is coming from someone with woolly hands full of calluses from music and camping and cooking. While the Semi-Hex shape is not exactly unique these days, it’s certainly comfortable.
In conclusion, this is not just a great American pencil. Heck, with so few left, that’s not a hard pair of shoes to fill. This is a fantastic pencil. It’s well-made, not prohibitively expensive (I paid $4 for a dozen), and with really just a great lead. Frankly, it’s everything you wish a Dixon Ticonderoga could be. (Here’s a nudge to Pencils.Com to carry more grades, and also thanks that they are one of the few places you can even get the Semi-Hex at all.)